If you’re thinking of a cowboy, you’re probably picturing a John Wayne type. Tall, strapping, and definitely white.
But black cowboys were just as important to the history of the American west except they never showed up in our textbooks. In black historian Bennie McRae Jr.’s book, Lest We Forget, he talks about the importance of black cowboys.
The history of the Black cowboys began long before the establishment of large ranches with cattle grazing in the late nineteenth century. Gambia and some other African countries were known to be lands of large cattle herds with the natives possessing innate skills in controlling and managing the movement of the animals. They were not called cowboys at that time, but merely herders.
So, looks like Africans were cowboys before cowboys even existed. Seems like John Wayne owes black America a thank you.
Throughout the slave trade, ranchers and farmers (slaveowners) with large herds of cattle in the lower south were attracted to this particular groups that had been captured in those African countries…Of the estimated 35,000 cowboys that worked the ranches and rode the trails, between five and nine thousand or more was said to have been Black. They participated in almost all of the drives northward, and was assigned to every job except that of trail boss. One historian noted that there had been a few cattle drives where the entire crews were black except for the trail boss.
Why have we never heard about this? Well, it’s just another example of black people being written out of history. Despite the fact that the black cowboys were doing all the hard work, racial prejudice wouldn’t allow their work to be documented.
But four women are bringing this history to light! The Cowgirls of Color, Selina “Pennie” Brown, Sandra “Pinky” Dorsey, Kisha “KB” Bowles and Brittaney Logan are competing on the rodeo circuit in gradually bigger and bigger competitions.
The sport is primarily white of course and women of any color are rare. These ladies aren’t afraid to step into the historically man’s game and show them who’s boss. The Cowboys of Color are here to represent a completely neglected group of the South and show everyone their strength and power.
The cowgirls know that they’re going against the grain. When one of the girls first started, she was the only black person in the whole competition. Another said that most people in the South don’t believe that women can ride. Well, these Cowgirls are here to prove them wrong.
It’s so exciting that this group of women is going out to shine a light on a part of hidden history, while showing the strength of women. Watch out, cowboys! The Cowgirls of Color are riding into town.
By: Amber Petty